Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Human Grease-A Camera's Worst Friend

If Alpha DSLRs were capable of dreaming, one nightmare that all of them would have, would be of being chased by a human hand trying to touch it in places not designed to be touched.

A bad friend

Human contact is mandatory in order to operate a DSLR. Sure, you can shoot in tethered mode and not touch the camera, but that wont give you much options for angles, and either way, you got to touch the lens to select the focal length.

DSLR bodies are designed to endure the abuse of human contact, but other parts are not.

One of the things that any DSLR or P&S camera fear a lot (if not the most) is the grease from human hands.

Enemy profile

Human skin secretes oils to keep the hands lubricated, some people secrete more oils than others, but everyone does it.

Human skin also removes waste from the body, around a 30% of all the waste a human body can generate. That means that the oils can also contain whatever your body is getting rid off through the skin.

These oils can taint or smudge a lot of surfaces. Usually you can clean them easily, like if you press your hand against a glass, a wipe with a cleaning product and a rag leave no trace of it.

But the same can't be said of photographic equipment.

Stay away!

If there are surfaces sensitive to human grease, those are surfaces of photographic equipment.

Due to the fact that you need to use your hands and fingers to control the camera, inevitably at one point or another you will touch your lens surface or something even more delicate, leaving your mark on them.

Unfortunately, cleaning these parts is not as simple as cleaning a window, since they are delicate, if you use the wrong product, you can need a replacement of that part or you can ruin your equipment. LITERALLY.

These are the parts of a camera that you should NEVER touch with your greasy fingers:
  • Camera sensor
  • Lens front or rear glass ends
  • Focusing screen
  • Mirror chamber
  • Lens contacts (in the mount and in the lens)
  • Built in flash
  • Viewfinder
  • LCD Screen

These parts are the most sensible to skin oils, most of these can be cleaned, but they require careful procedures, because if you dont do them correctly, like sensor cleaning, you can ruin it for good. Focusing screens for example, can be replaced, but you got to send it to an authorized Sony repair center. If you have an A900, you can do it yourself, but be careful.


If you clean your camera, even if its on the outside, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS use latex gloves, like the ones doctors and surgeons use. They are sold in stores like Wal-Mart in the house cleaning section or in a store that sells medical supplies. These gloves will prevent your oils to touch delicate parts if for some reason you make a mistake or your hand slips or whatever.

A method Ive read about with no complaints so far is the use of the
LensPen system. In few words, its a brush that you gently move around your lens and will clean your fingerprints and other contamination without leaving trace. They have also a brush called SensorKlear thats design to clear sensors as well (CCD and CMOS) in the same fashion. Ive ordered one of each of them, but I havent received them yet. But all the research I made didnt yield reasons not to get them. They offer producs for cleaning lenses, sensors, cellphone cameras, LCD screens and TV screens as well as monitors. I suggest you check that site.

If you stain one of the parts I listed and you do NOT know what to do, DO NOT NOT NOT attempt to clean it with what you would normally clean skin oil stains like water. Research thoroughly first and determine whats the best course of action, if the cleaning procedure seems too complicated or you dont feel up for it, DO NOT proceed with it, look for a professional service such as offered by Adorama or Calumet Photographic.

Never send your equipment to unauthorized repair centers, the procedure done there may void your warranty and increase the problems your camera has, and the manufacturer may not want to repair your camera or it may be too expensive to repair.

Buy a LCD screen protector. Sony offers one for every Alpha model in the current lineup, and you can find third party solutions as well. The protector will keep your LCD screen safe from scratches and smudges. It's easier and cheaper to replace a protector than the whole screen.

If you attempt to clean your mess yourself, make sure the products you will use are compatible with your camera. This applies especially to sensor wet cleaning method. The only liquid solution approved by Sony for sensor cleaning in the Alpha line is the Eclipse E2 Solution. Use of another solution may corrode or stain your sensor filter.


You may have suspected it, but now you know it for good, human skin isnt the best friend of your photographic gear.

If you are careful about your gear, you shouldnt run intro trouble, but if you do, there are options to clean the mess or repair it.

It's better to be cautious and safe than being sorry, I recommend you follow the guidelines laid out in this article.

And again, if you stain something and you don't know what to do, do NOT think of "brilliant and original" solutions. There are a 1,000,000 ways to do it wrong and a few ways to do it right, if you don't know what to do, don't act impulsively, instead follow this sequence:


Your gear is delicate and precise equipment, therefore it requires proper care.

Take care of it and don't lay your greasy fingers on sensitive parts.

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